History

Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences (AVIA) is a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation formed to create, operate and promote projects that make the arts in the State of Washington more accessible to people with visual impairments. AVIA was incorporated in 1991.

One of our first projects to increase awareness of arts access was the Access Arts Line, 206-528-2085, a voicemail telephone service providing monthly notices of arts events accessible to visually impaired people.

AVIA operates the Audio Description Service, which has been making Seattle theaters accessible since 1985. Before a regular performance, visually impaired patrons listen through headsets to pre-show recordings of information about actors (with samples of their voices in character), descriptions of characters, costumes and sets. During the performance a live audio describer takes advantage of pauses in dialogue to describe stage action. Audio description is available at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman, ACT Theatre, The Seattle Children's Theatre, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. AVIA's portable system makes audio description possible almost anywhere.

In 1992 AVIA provided a live described tour of Northwest Folklife's "Singers, Dancers, Dreamers, Travelers," an exhibit of Native American instruments, dance costumes and ceremonial objects. AVIA provided a live described tour of Folklife's 1993 exhibit, "We are Polynesia," on May 22, 1993.

On April 10, 1993, AVIA presented "FestAVIA, a celebration of arts by and for visually impaired people" in Metro's Westlake Station, featuring performances and exhibits by visually impaired artists, and descriptive tours of public art in the Metro tunnel system. AVIA produced, in conjunction with Metro, "A Guide to the Metro Tunnel for Visually Impaired Travelers," available through Metro in Braille, large print and audiocassette.

In 1995 AVIA launched "The Package," a group of services intended to lower barriers to the theater for visually impaired people. "The Package" provided subscribers with discounted tickets, sighted guides and door to door transportation to and from the Theater. "The Package" is now an ongoing program made possible in 2003 with support from the King County Arts Commission and the Washington Council of the Blind.

In 1996, AVIA acted as sponsor, in Conjunction with the Seattle Children's Theatre and the Group Theatre, for a production of Antonio Buero Vallejo's In the Burning Darkness. The project involved talented, visually impaired teenagers and young adults in all aspects of theatrical work. The play was set in a high school for blind students and debated universal questions of physical and metaphysical blindness.

With support from the King County Arts Commission, AVIA purchased a computerized Braille embosser in 1996. With this technology, AVIA provides all of its information services in Braille and provides Braille services to arts organizations.

In 1997, AVIA, in collaboration with the Jack Straw Foundation, offered the first Blind Youth Audio Project, which taught creative digital audio production techniques to blind and visually impaired high school students from around Washington State. The tenth annual Blind Youth Audio Project was completed in 2006, supported by the Washington State Arts Commission, the Bile and Malinda Gates Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2003, AVIA produced the descriptive tour CD that accompanied the annual exhibit, "No Boundaries," a showcase of artwork created by the Northwest's artists with disabilities, organized by VSA Washington. AVIA produced the descriptive CD for the 2004 and 2010 touring shows as well.

In 2007, in collaboration with Jack Straw Productions, AVIA created a descriptive walking tour of "Contrasts: A Glass Primer," a long-running exhibit at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

In 2008, AVIA, Jack Straw Productions, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet jointly conducted a workshop on Dance and Description.

On, May 25, 2011, a group of volunteers gathered on Red Square at the University of Washington to stand perfectly still for five minutes as part of UW's Disability Awareness Week. "Every Body Freeze Now" was a flash mob patterned after an event in Grand Central Station, New York. It was a project of the UW Dance Program and the Student Disability Commission. The organizers called on AVIA's Jesse Minkert to provide the live description, audible throughout the square by speakers. The description was projected on a screen by realtime captioner Stanley Sakai. ASL interpretation was by Andrew Scudder. The faculty coordinator was Jurg Koch. The student organizer was Ann Loetzow.

AVIANEWS, AVIA's bimonthly newsletter carries information regarding arts access for visually impaired people in large print, Braille, and e-mail formats.

In 2011, AVIA began its FaceBook page where we post updates on ongoing projects. Search for Avia Artsaccess.